Black Existentialism (Part 1)


Blackness and Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy

“That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom i come in contact. A matter of the construction of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality” -Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

It is impossible to underestimate how saturated the concept of “blackness” is in our Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchal social environment today. Imperialism is the advanced colonial capacity of governments to exploit people and diasporas, demanding assimilation to a global economic system and deference to military authority. White Supremacy is the racist power dynamic that ideologically, institutionally, and economically values white lives above black, brown, and other non-white people to build, protect, and further strengthen the power and privileges of white people. Under this guiding principle, Imperialism more effectively attacks and oppresses black and other POC globally, justifying itself as a benevolent and valid power.  Capitalism describes the economic system which fuels and enables Imperialist growth and white supremacist power. Capitalism is the economic configuration of institutions, people, and land that support a state, which all but totally, monopolizes the use of violent force with the exchange of currency. This basic relationship is the foundation upon which the subjects of capitalism are motivated to use currency as described by the legal articulation of rights that justify and reinforce capital. Patriarchy describes the techniques of socialization and behavior prescription that elevates men above women in everyday social life. Patriarchy is the fundamental social relationship upon which all other exploitative hierarchical power relationships have developed historically. It allows the dissemination of power to be distributed throughout the population on a wide range of scales, prescribing power to patriarchal male identity, authorizing the use of that power in a fundamentally repressive way. The combination of all of these dynamics into a globalized system is the pretext upon which IWSCP exploits black bodies.

Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy does this in the abstract when discussion and portrayal of black people in media separates positive connotations from “blackness,” instead, suffusing and saturating “blackness” with negative attributes and associations. IWSCP authorizes its own power by modeling techniques of dehumanization and orienting white supremacist temperaments towards blackness for the dominant white gaze (that is the perspective of white individuals who observe and interact with black people). The white gaze battles for control over how black people express and react to their subjective experiences in a colonized world. How black people live and experience blackness is black subjectivity, which is under constant attack.

Black people uniquely engage with environmental circumstances, socio-economic landscapes and assimilatory social relations. Scrutinized by white subjects, we learn to anticipate distrustful questions and apathy, while rarely succeeding in locating spaces and representations that facilitate empathy for black existence. Our reality, our subjective experiences of blackness are always known, seen, and utilized implicitly and explicitly. Black existentialism is that specific mode of being within Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy that enables black people to recognize their own humanity and unveil the artificial conceptions of blackness. In this way, black existentialism is acknowledging the degree to which we are invisible in an exploitative world. We mitigate our visibility as a matter of survival and we struggle to be recognized in our totality as human beings.

Very early on, we are taught to second-guess ourselves, mask behaviors and feelings that are most likely to be warped, erased, or mangled by the white gaze. Continually exposed to a gazing white subject, we come to expect its presence in our daily lives. The white subject, participating in the white gaze, has the unique privilege of existing within a social reality that assigns primacy to white agency over all others. Fortunately, despite the expansive apparatus of erasure, black people are not objects and subsequently observe the techniques of subjugation utilized by the gazing white subject. How we communicate our perception of this oppressive reality is the substance of the oppositional gaze.

At the same time, blackness is empowering, beautiful, and embodies community wherever black people are able to time and secure spaces that are not suffused with oppressive racism. In reality, simply acknowledging the extent to which the development of Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy consistently erects structures and techniques of power that disenfranchise blackness illustrates the strength of black subjectivity and its ability to erode and threaten white hegemonic social order.

This complex network of people and power dynamics are what makes “blackness” a very saturated category. That is to say, “blackness,” as a concept or signifier, is immensely rich with condensed notions and narratives that are intended to describe black bodies. While the cultural discourse around blackness is largely dominated by the total effects of power wielded by Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy, blackness is also saturated with the meanings and experiences of black people.

Black Existentialism is the precarious position of black people wherein our subjective experiences of blackness are juxtaposed with external perceptions of blackness that are projected upon us. In this way, black people are never truly seen by the white gaze or by white hegemony as a culture, but are erased by the very categories prescribed to and projected upon black bodies.

Navigating the White Gaze

Because strategically navigating the white gaze is a matter of survival, we are compelled to pick and choose our battles or, rather, those moments when it is advantageous and necessary to disrupt the white gaze to explicitly reveal our oppositional gaze. As Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriachy makes violence normalized in everyday life, it produces fear for the black people who grapple with whether or not to step outside of the boundaries “respectability” creates. Wherever we express ourselves, we are calculating risks involved with doing so. These internal struggles and decisions are made invisible as much as possible in order to preserve and reinforce white apathy.

The permutations of being–the stereotypes, the victim blaming narratives, the dehumanized criminal, and other fictional caricatures are a burden shouldered by black people who navigate the white gaze. We simultaneously carry everything we are not and everything we are within ourselves at all times.

We are encouraged to assimilate to the standards and values of a hostile exploitative social environment supported by a number of institutions. Our subjectivity is erased wherever it is evaluated by the white gaze. At all times, we are expected to disclose that which is not known by white people about blackness. That which cannot be digested or understood is dismissed as a non-existent or imagined dimension of reality. Our emotional sentiments are scrutinized by the degree that which they discourage acceptance of the Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchal status quo that oppresses black people economically, psychologically, and physically. Apathy is deployed where there are appeals for sympahy or empathy. Empathy is deployed only after black subjects affirm the validity and necessity of IWSCP as a system. Only where there is black deference to the mercy of the white gaze and its supporting white supremacist institutions does respectability win white sympathy. When this paternalistic power dynamic is affirmed, the black subject is made into an object of false generosity. This transformation allows existing power dynamics to be reified in the public discourse on race.

Situated between the racist white gaze and the mechanisms of capitalism, there is a perpetual war waged against the way that blackness is allowed to appear. For the white gaze, blackness is always an attribute of otherness. The actual subjectivity of blackness is not known or understood by the white gaze. Where black people express themselves in view of the white gaze, their behavior is seen as stemming directly from white hegemony’s cultural understanding of blackness. Whiteness, with exclusive ownership over the white gaze, shapes itself to have a unique position towards blackness. It places itself above blackness in order to prioritize its own view of black people as subordinate or dehumanized. This relationship is what allows race to emerge as a caste based system that functions in concert with class.

In this way, blackness is objectified by the white gaze into a commodity full of white misconceptions and “otherness.” As a black “other,” black subjectivity is denied humanity and the paradigm of white supremacy claims mastery over public perception of blackness.

In this historical period, following chattel slavery, global colonialism, and the continued development of white supremacy, black people have been forced to navigate a social reality where their humanity is perpetually questioned and scrutinized. As the aspirations modeled by IWSCP for white people appear, they gradually eclipse black conceptions of liberation with bourgeois notions of success. White privilege is inextricably bound to the same processes that create racial categories, and to be white means entitlement to white privilege.

Pressured to assimilate, many black people then internalize the view of blackness from the perspective of the white gaze. There are material incentives to deny or at least mask the existence of black subjectivity, by prioritizing the white view of blackness. Those attributes which are permitted by the white gaze to exist and find expression in black people can then be identified as “respectable.” While respectability is still subject to racism and hostility, this category of blackness is afforded more privileges than the black person who expresses their subjectivity, their lived experiences with a black body in a white supremacist world.  These prescribed respectable roles fail to liberate black people who are oppressed, exploited, and murdered by the hegemonic social order. This is contrast to radical expressions of blackness of that challenge the legitimacy of a social landscape supported by Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy.

This is not to say that the agency of black people disappears once the white gaze is internalized or when assimilation is embraced as a survival option within society. On the contrary, blackness shaped for respectability requires an acute awareness of this situation because it involves consciously grasping at the white gaze as a tool. The black subject who internalizes a racist self-view manipulates their subjectivity by shaping themselves such that they may pass across the white gaze with minimal resistance. The subjectivity of black people is never actually negated, it is only made less or more visible to the white gaze. In this relationship, black people decide the degree to which they are visible while the white gaze attempts to control how black visibility is understood and contained within a cultural perception of respectability.

Gripping with the dehumanizing ability of the media, government, and capitalists, many black people, with aspirations of bourgeois success within the existing conditions of exploitation and oppression, internalize contradictory perspectives embedded within “blackness” in the interest of survival. So accustomed to the white gaze, white supremacy becomes permanent element of reality that is virtually inescapable. This psychological phenomenon, where the perception of being watched is enough to cause an individual to discipline themselves according to the behavioral expectations of the gazing subject, occurs in disciplinary institutions and it also manifests when the white gaze is internalized by blackness. The consequences of this surface in a plethora of dispositions and attitudes towards blackness that are internalized in the form of self-hate and other forms of cognitive dissonance.

Deconstructing what aspects of Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchal power dynamics produce these categorizations of blackness is necessary for the liberation of the empowered black subject. Accepting those oppressive situations as insurmountable enables them to be internalized and erases those inherit dimensions of black subjectivity that are necessary for a critical oppositional gaze to develop and challenge the white gaze. Navigating power by way of internalization is a tactic of survival, but this same tactic preserves oppression, it reproduces a way of life that is always subordinate to the white gaze, rather than challenging its legitimacy in social reality.

As Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy has developed, black people have been continually encouraged to internalize patriarchal heteronormative conceptions of being. We are subjected to these power dynamics, yet, because of our existential position, we are necessarily denied access to the privileges reserved for white people who are able to fit within prescribed identities which are normalized in society. The accessibility of these commodified dreams is controlled by IWSCP, which protects itself by distributing power and privilege among a white caste. Where patriarchal masculinity is portrayed as a route to respectability within IWSCP, white patriarchal men are already in possession of white supremacist patriarchal power in a way that is unattainable for black men.

Accepting prescribed patriarchal roles of masculinity and feelings of entitlement to occupy these roles means reproducing sexist power wherever we acknowledge gender. The white male gaze informs notions of desirability and it also models patriarchal power dynamics. This especially racialized dimension of patriarchy is a weapon used against black women, trans, queer, and non-binary people. Because of this reality, black men who have internalized Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist notions of gender must discard conceptions of success that perpetuate sexist power dynamics or patriarchal heteronormative representations of masculinity and femininity. In reclaiming our subjective experience of blackness, refuting the ways in which IWSCP sculpts our colonized perception of our selves is an inextricable part of radically re-imagining how we can operate in a decolonized world.

When we problematize our own liberation, we are exercising radical creativity because black subjectivity is not supported by the existing social reality. The means to affect and preserve systemic transformative change have not yet manifested in an accessible and tangible way that can fully decolonize blackness. Wherever the struggle for survival under this system demands concessions to the system, these decisions must at once be identified as such, rather than glorified or portrayed as an example of liberation. To breathe is a prerequisite for existence, and every obstacle to this fact for black people should be ruthlessly interrogated and opposed.

Where black people are able to claim the space outside of the white gaze by expressing their subjectivity, we see pride in black power actualized in our empathy–where we identify with each others struggles and our practices of liberation. We see safety and comfort or relief outside of the gaze. We find ourselves no longer fighting to prove our existence. We simply see each other as valid. Where community develops in this way, the power of the black oppositional gaze reveals itself as a tool for dismantling Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy.

-M.I. Jazz Freeman

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2 Responses to Black Existentialism (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: The Invisible Future in our Present (Black Existentialism Part 3) | Praxis and Capital

  2. Pingback: Black Existentialism and Fascist Erasure (Part 2) | Praxis and Capital

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